St. Johns the Evangelist

Hildenborough Parish Church was built in 1844, for the sum of £2,300 from private contributions, on land given by the Vicar of Leigh, the Rev. Thomas May. Designed by Ewan Christian, it is built of local materials – Kentish rag walling, sandstone dressings, tiled roof and shingled spire, with a plain interior where interest is centred on the great curved ribs springing from the wall-corbels to the apex of the roof, and so greatly increasing the apparent height and size of the building. The clock was installed in 1865 (cost £55.10s.0d.) and the octave of bells (tubular) was installed in 1887 in honour of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

A complete restoration was planned in 1895; F.W. Hunt was the appointed architect and Langridge & Son of Tonbridge were the builders. The original intention was to repair the spire which had lost much of its shingling, build a porch at the west end, overhaul the roof, reseat the Church in pine or oak, reform the south entrance, reglaze the windows and put in a heating apparatus. However, so well had the money come in from parishioners by 1896, that further improvements were undertaken, including an additional bay to the nave, the south-west porch enlargement of the vestry, reflooring of the Church and paving of the aisles. Gifts given at that time were: the oak pulpit by Mrs H. Hills, the oak eagle lectern by Harold Fitch Kemp, the bronze cross and vases by Bertha Cuncliffe and an alms dish by Mr & Mrs Kingscote. Gas was used for lighting for the first time, supplied from the private gas works at Foxbush and “a handsome lamp” was added over the Church door; hot water heating was also installed and the present boiler room built. In March, 1899 the weather cock was repaired and restored to its place “after the great damage done to the spire by the fury of the gales” earlier in the year. 

The stained-glass windows are mostly gifts from local residents in the memory of members of their families, i.e. the south transept windows given by the Lawson family of Bourne Place in memory of Ann, wife of William, died 1863; the main three-light window in the sanctuary dates from 1898 and was given by Mr and Mrs Johnson of Mountains in memory of their eldest daughter, Francis Ann. A series of 8 stained-glass windows in the nave, designed by James Powell & Sons, was added between 1903 and 1911 and commemorate Charles Fitch Kemp (1907), William Norton Lawson and Frances, his wife (1911), Rev. F.A. Stewart Savile (1907) and Sophia, his wife (1904), Mary Ann Lawson (1906), Mary Louisa, wife of F.W. Hunt (1910), and Louisa Pidcock (1903), given by the women of the Parish. The remaining window on the north side of the nave (not one of the series) was inserted in 1900 by the parishioners in memory of Rev. R.L.G. Pidcock; the subject is The Good Shepherd. The large centre window in the west wall was the gift of the many friends of Charles Fitch Kemp, J.P., D.L., of Foxbush, who died 1907; one of the single-light windows (St Gabriel) commemorates Mrs Fitch Kemp and the other (St. Raphael), together with the bullseye window above (St Michael), are in memory of Robert Wingate of Oakhurst (1906). The triple lancet stained-glass window in the north transept was smashed when a bomb fell on the recreation ground on 11th July 1944; the day before a Recital of Music was to have taken place at 7.30 pm as part of the Centenary celebrations. The subject of the window was “Faith, Hope and Charity” and commemorated Frances Letitia Dummelow (1839-1863), one of the daughters of the Rev. Edward Vinall, the first incumbent. The two small, single-light windows in the transepts are in memory of her parents, the Rev. Edward Vinall, died 1880 (south) and Letitia, died 1875 (north). The latter window shows a strong Byrne Jones influence and is perhaps one of the best windows in the church.

Apart from the plaques and windows, there are other items which commemorate those who served the Lord in the Church and community. The very beautiful processional cross was given by the widow and family of Col. C.E. Warner, a bible for the lectern was given by Mrs Wilson and family in memory of J.T. Fellowes Wilson and Mrs Coutanche gave two desks with kneelers for use in the sanctuary in memory of her husband. The oak panelling in the choir stalls, installed in memory of Frances Johnson, was designed by Mr Burke Downing, who also designed the oak font cover dedicated to the memory of Miss Ellen Anne Lawson. 

The organ had not been included in the restoration work of 1896, so in 1900, after the death of the Rev. R.L.G. Pidcock, it was decided to commemorate his six years in the Parish by rebuilding the organ as a memorial to him. The organ was originally built by Gray & Davison about 1870, but by the turn of the century improvements were necessary. It was recommended that the organ should be divided, half being placed on the north side of the chancel and half o the south side, that the organ case should be built in oak to match the choir stalls, that tubular pneumatic action and a new blowing apparatus should be installed and that six new stops should be added. This rather formidable list of improvements cost more than £850 to complete. It was inaugurated and dedicated on 2nd February, 1902 and Mr W.F. Kingdon, Mus. Bac., organist of St. Laurence Jewry in the City of London, gave some recitals. In May 1931 it was agreed to electrify the blowing apparatus at a cost of £80, as the hydraulic blower was worn out and had become extremely wasteful of water. By 1987, the two main bellows were leaking air, the action was slow and noisy, the soundboards wee split and many of the pipes were leaning over in their racks, causing considerable tuning problems. The organ was taken down in January, 1987 and most of it was removed to the workshops of the organ builder Martin K. Cross in Essex. The builder constructed a new console complete with new keyboards and pedal board and a modern “capture action” was incorporated for fast stop changes. A new transmission system between the console and pipes was constructed which uses micro processor control. This means that the console can be placed anywhere in the church, linked to the pipes by a single cable. Tonally the instrument was altered to make a more exciting sound. New mixture stops were added to both Swell and Great departments and a Trumpet stop was added to the Swell. The work was completed in June, 1987 and in September, Keith Rusling, the church organist, gave a recital including works by Bach, Wesley, Rheinberger, Howells, Pachelbel and Mulet.

Other recent improvements include the refurbishing of the tubular bells in memory of Miss Ida Clarke-Lawrence in 1982, the complete retiling of the roof in 1985, the installation of permanent floodlighting in 1993 and also that year, the recasting of the church bell in memory of Mr Philip Toy.

The centenary of the Church in 1944 was marked by the publication of a booklet telling the history of the Church, the school and village and “a week of rejoicing which will long be remembered”. 

To commemorate the 150 th anniversary, a triple lancet stained-glass window was installed in the north transept, designed by Keith & Judy Hill of Staplehurst, and dedicated by the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt. Rev Michael Turnbull, at a special service on Sunday, 26th June 1994, replacing the window blown out by a VI flying bomb during the week of centenary celebrations in 1944.

The building is Listed 2*.  


Edward Vinall, M.A. 1844 – 1880 

M.J.T. Boys M.A. 1818 – 1894 

R.L.G. Pidcock, M.A. 1894 – 1900 

J. Stone 1901 – 1918 

H. Warde 1918 – 1924 

L.G. Chamberlen, M.C., M.A. 1924 – 1934 

E.H. Wade 1934 – 1935 

W.H. Bass, M.A., B.D. 1935 – 1939 

E.W.E. Fraser 1939 – 1951 

A.R. Fountain 1951 – 1959 

P. Tadman 1960 – 1962 

S. Plunket 1962 – 1968 

G.A.R. Swannell 1968 – 1980

 D.R. Corfe 1980 – 1990 

R.J. Bawtree 1991 – 2004 

J Chandler 2005 to date